In The Absence of The Written Word / #HaitianRevolution #AmericanRevolution #humanrights #FormsOfProduction #theFreedomPapers
How important is the presence and absence of (1) open discussion of ideas to humanity, and how pivotal is the presence and absence of (2) the written word, and the (3) ability to physically (digitally) distribute such ideas to impact local, national, and global events?
On page 88, of ‘Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995),’ Michel-Rolph Trouillot, paraphrases, Louis Sala-Molins “claim” ‘that slavery was the ultimate test of the Enlightenment.’ Whereas Trouillot goes one step further and sais that “the Haitian Revolution was the ultimate test to the universalist pretensions of both the French and American revolutions. And they both failed. In 1791, there is no public debate on the record, in France, in England, or in the United states on the right of black slaves to achieve self-determination, and the right to do so by way of armed resistance.”
In such a manner does Michel-Rolph Trouillot place before the reader the possibility that the American Revolution (and the French Revolution) failed at their core. That given slavery’s continuance to exist, the inherent founding principles of every man being created equal was not truly practiced in the United States or France, given the existence of the global slave trade at the time, and America’s and France’s partaking in such a system of human bondage.
1.Does the author steal away the laurel leaves, the triumphant narrative found in the Declaration of Independence and place it before us in plain light as ultimately, a dismal failure?
2. Is it not so that hundreds of thousands of African slaves experienced no immediate freedom or acknowledgment of their God-given human rights in the United States of America during the time of writing of the Declaration of Independence (1787) or the U.S.Consititution (1789)?
It can easily be said that this ‘Age of Enlightenment’ extended only to white men, scarcely to the white women, and certainly not so, to the native American savages, or the African brute slave. Both uncivilized and uneducated, in need of a task masters supervision, and complete banishment from ascending into the the colonial society. That this be so during the time of the writing of the American Declaration in 1776, one can attest that surely, without apology, such an observation was true, and it was not until a ‘black Spartacus,’ born in the southern United States at about 1818, that the undertaking to change and set in place such a inalienable principle would begin to take shape; rectifying the shine such a manuscript never held. Through a more careful examination of the authors choice observations, it is argued that, at least for the United States of America, during its own time of emancipation from colonialism, America did not directly fail to be at the aid of the Haitian revolution for personal freedom, but differed dramatically in how it operated itself in its push for achievement of emancipation from colonial rule. It did however, fail in not setting the moral example in addressing all human beings as a free people, “created equal,” endowed with certain unalienable rights by their Creator, “among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And this failing of America, and consequently, France, set a precedent where the absence of such discussion, that all men and women are created equal, never happened in any spirited way at such a time. Had such thoughtful critical thinking taken place during this time, how would that have affected Western political thought within Europe and the United States during the nearly thirteen years of the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804)?
If such discussions would have taken place, it would be mere speculation that in short loss of time, the hearts and minds, the very energies of such altruistic revolutionaries in the United States and France may have seemed to see it befitting that the Haitian Revolution be helped with the arrival of printing presses on the island of La Hispaniola in the Carribean. But there is no record whatsoever, as has said Michel-Rolph Trouillot, of discussion or political debate on the issue of black slavery in America or France at that time.
From this lesser step, and within this national moral failing, the American and French revolutions failed to stand as shining examples of their written doctrines, and yet, the Haitian revolution for independence found, both success and failure, ultimately leading itself to keep a monarchical governing structure and rendering the freed black slaves as serf-peasants under hierarchical social and economic oppression.
Had the following been present in Haiti, as it was in the United States and France, it would have strengthened the power of the people and limited the possible rise of a hierarchical governing structure with a king at the helm:
(1) the written word
(2) literate, educated people
(3) the presence of forms of production, i.e. the printing press
(4) the ability to distribute copies of the written word through a network
(5) the ability to study and discuss such principles, allowed for the cementing of the ideals and constant remembrance of WHY the American Revolution took place.
Quite on the contrary and unfortunate for Haiti’s slave revolt sympathizers, none of these, except for the last, point, albeit, in a degraded intellectual form of remembrance, the human mind, were present during the rebellion.
The actuality in Haiti between 1791 and 1804 was that:
- Lack of education: slaves were illiterate and their was no printed word
- There were no FORMS OF PRODUCTION: no printing press or way to duplicate copies of printed word, thus no way to carefully study, discuss or transmit the principles of ‘why’ the revolt was purposed
- The actions of the black slave rebellion took eminence over discourse: the unspoken revolution “expressed itself mainly through its deeds, and it is through political practice that it challenged Western philosophy and colonialism,” and not the written word
- It was not discussed in profound throughtfulness: Their was no Continental Congress; no delegates: the revolution dealt with the impossible only after the impossible had become fact; and even then, the facts were not always accepted as such
Further, the author brings great awareness as to the constant changing of the slave rebel leadership, and the capturing of historical facts then and through time, would have resolutely left the leaders, let alone the Haitian slaves wondering who to back and support. It is so that in an age where ‘news’ from afar traveled slowly, the rendering of historical accounts from observers on the ground during the Haitian revolution would ultimately become perceptual choices (p.48) of understanding, delivering a skewed narrative on what really happened. Individual perspective of the interplay during the Haitian Revolution would have struggled to keep up with a clear and concise view of who was backing whom and if the ideal of freedom for the slaves was still at the core of the fighting. Such disarray could have been greatly helped through the presence of the printing press. Written word can act as a script that binds us, reminding us of what is important, and serving as a set of parameters to which to abide to.
To the fog of war, Trouillot gives the reader an important submission: the War of Independence was not simply a black against white affair, but that it was ‘a war within the war’ itself, (p.40).
As the slave revolt continued through its years, various black slave commanders joined the French armies to battle Spaniard and British forces seeking a colonialist foothold in Haitian territory, and then many defected away from the French again, being jaded by calls from French leadership to eventually reinstitute slavery again. The lead rebel commanders themselves had, in effect, raised colonial slave armies, fought their colonial masters, and later defected from them, disdaining the promises of a hierarchical governance structure, not that different from that which the slaves had essentially revolted from.
Though the desire of human freedom was at the heart of the slave revolt, the narrative would be rewritten and rewritten in the minds of the rebel commander leaders, as it would be with the leaders who had sided with the French colonial hegemony. Ultimately, a black Haitian ‘King Henry I’ took the throne, and soon after, a second King, Christophe, divided the kingdom and ruled over northern Haiti. Christophe, the author reports, built an opulent palace and was ruthless in his hold on power, allowing thousands of black peasants to die in the making of his personal domain. History repeats itself…
Could have the original ideals of the slave revolt, the human right of personal freedom been lost to human greed and moral ignorance, due to a lack of education and the forms of production (printing press)? If the form of historical production available at the time, a printing press, would have been present and functioning in Haiti, and the slaves could have been a literate people, how would the written reminders of the principles being fought for pillared the hearts and minds of the peasant-slaves to hold their leaders accountable?
Our words and actions matter, as do the intents of the heart. All must be balanced in the light of the moment, and in retrospect, with as much thoughtfulness as can be afforded. The words and actions of the Haitian Revolution did not follow each other, nor did the written word precede or hold accountable the actions. Instead, a series of actions were exacted and the historical understanding of such events was placed into a narrative according to the biases, preconditions and cultural inclinations of historical storytellers; the writers of history. The failure of American and French morality in accepting all humanity as created equal before God, set the stage for a watered-down version of human emancipation in Haiti, but the final intent of the black leadership in Haiti showed to place itself as a monarchy over the people it purported to free.
Had careful conversation leading to critical thinking discourse happened in the United States and France as to the need to see all humanity as created equal and bestowed with God-given rights (not just to white men), the aid to other lands and peoples following suit could have surely been afforded printing presses, (a form of production). Learning from their own examples, the leading American and French patriots recognized that it was correspondence and written declarations which held each revolutionary to a set of unwavering principles; edifying them (and us) with continual, non-changing written reminders of what is important. Much more, the free people who lived in the colonies during these times enjoyed a greater measure of literacy and educational upbriniging, unlike the Haitian black slaves who were purposefully kept illiterate.
Althogether, it can be said that initially, the Age of Enlightenment momentarily failed on the issue of black slavery, and yet, as is now known, not even twenty years after the Haitian Independence of 1804, an American black Spartacus, even a black slave, Frederick Douglass, would rise up against all odds, self-learning to read, write and speak eloquently using only two books, one of which was the Holy Bible, and the second, the leading scholastic text book at the time in America, The Columbian Orator. This same man, Douglass, harnessed the power of the spoken and written word, as well as the only form of production available at the time, the printing press, to catapult God’s call to respect the human rights of the black man as created equal. Stopping short of leading a campaign for the rights of women, and yet furthering the strength of the American founding documents (Declaration of Independence in 1787, The U.S. Constitution in 1789, and the Bill of Rights in 1791), Frederick Douglass was able to impact hearts and minds due to his constant writings, his printing press, his distribution network for his written word, and his ability to speak persuasively in public. The Haitian slave rebellion had none of these helps.
So important is the written word to keeping us in aware of what is important, and what to hold dear…
God’s Word, which is the “law of liberty,” serves humanity as an exacting moral compass, an admonishment, and a map of how to conduct ourselves, and what to expect. So important is the written word to humanity that even in the last sentences of the King James Version of the Judeo-Christian bible, God emphasized, “and if any man shall take away from the words of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”